How To Teach History Without Textbooks Or Tests

When you talk about teaching or learning history, what’s the most common thing that people say?

“Oh!  History is boring!”

The thing is, those people weren’t wrong.  History is boring because what people use to teach it is boring.  Most history classes use dry textbooks full of seemingly pointless facts and figures followed by fill-in-the-blank worksheets and tests.  Those make it so that kids can’t see how history is relevant to their lives. If we want kids to connect with history and see how fascinating it is we need to ditch the textbooks and tests!

If you’re not going to go the traditional route, how can you teach history?

  1. Read historical fiction.

  2. Watch shows and movies about history.

  3. Do a project.

Teaching history doesn't have to just involve textbooks. Here is how you can teach history without textbooks or tests!

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Ways to Teach History Without Textbooks or Tests


Historical Fiction

Ever notice how Jesus mostly taught through parables? It’s because God designed the human brain to learn through stories. That’s why historical fiction is so perfect for teaching kids. It holds their interest better than textbooks. Since many feature kids their age they will better connect with what is happening. That means they might even want to learn more on their own!
Many parents worry that without pre-made, objective tests and worksheets they won’t be able to tell if their children are learning. That’s simply not true. There are many ways to use historical fiction as a teaching tool.
Obviously start by reading the book. You can read it together as a family, or assign it to your child to read alone. Then you have a few options. You can go with the old standby of worksheets or quizzes, but that won’t make things more interesting. Here are some better ideas.

  1. Host a ‘book club’ style chat about what you/they read.
  2. Have your child draw a picture or comic strip depicting what he read and tell you about it.
  3. Have your child build a LEGO or clay model of what she read and tell you about it.

A Few Good Books

The list of quality historical fiction could occupy a book of its own. Here are just a few popular choices. If you want more ideas, your local librarian can offer some help.

Book Series
  • Imagination Station
  • Magic Treehouse
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • American Girl
  • My America
  • Dear America
Individual Books
  • Scarlet Letter
  • Number the Stars
  • Devil’s Arithmetic
  • Johnny Tremain

Movies & TV

As we’ve already discussed, humans crave stories. It’s how we connect and learn best. Facts and figures don’t tend to draw kids in the way a compelling story can. This is even more true for our visual learners who can tend to feel disconnected from the world of print. It’s also a great option for learning on those days when you’re just too exhausted to go on.
Start by finding movies, TV shows, or documentaries about whatever era you are studying. To really gain the interest of your child, find something that piques her interest. If she’s into fashion, find a documentary about how the needs of the war effort in WWII impacted women’s clothing. As you watch, have your kids use the reflection pages in the Exhausted Homeschool Mom’s Toolkit to think about (and show you) what they learned.

What To Watch

As always, if you’re at all concerned about the possibility of questionable content, preview selections before having your children watch them. The Exhausted Homeschool Mom’s Toolkit has a much more thorough list of things available to stream, but here are a few fun choices about history (some you may need to rent or buy).

    • American Girl collection
    • The Sound of Music
    • Johnny Tremain
    • Fiddler on the Roof
    • West Side Story
    • Remember the Titans
    • The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler


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Heather is a Christian, wife, and mom to 5 beautiful children. She blogs at Fearless Faithful Mom about conquering the fear of failing as a mom and embracing the adventures God sets before us. She has been homeschooling for 5 years and now has ‘students’ ranging from kindergarten to 4th grade. 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. My kids love history. It can be so much fun if you allow it to be. Our favorite history book is Story of the World and supplement it with living books, movies, documentaries, YouTube videos, and fun activities. Who says you have to take a test to make sure your kids have learned what you want them to learn? Oh, yeah the state.
    Have them narrate back to you what they heard or better yet, listen to them. Kids are natural narrators. They love to tell back to you what they heard, read, or watched. Listen and ask questions to know how much they learned.

  2. Bonny Shiflett

    Rush Limbaugh has a series of historical books. They are written on a 5th grade level. I have read them to my 3rd grade students for 5 years. They are engaging and loved by all of my students. Rush supports homeschool students and parents. You could get a set of these books by contacting his team at The first book starts with the Pilgrims in Holland.

  3. Deborah Hunter Kells

    I am a homeschooler from the “past” and my daughter went through lots of reading and become the proverbial book worm. (She then followed by doing Journalism at University which was no surprise!) I wondered though about including activities and hands on history? Is there ways you would do that?

    1. Tauna Meyer

      I would search pinterest for whatever they were studying in history and find some hands-on activities that way OR I would use Homeschool in the Woods – they have GREAT hands-on games and activities for history. SO much fun!

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